Whether or not you’re entertained by Junction Point’s work on Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, you have to admire the level of fan service going on. Warren Spector and his team dug deep into Disney’s library of forgotten lore for the first Epic Mickey, and the double-dip in Epic Mickey 2 is marked by the same level of loving attention. If that sort of attention had also been paid to delivering an enjoyable, polished experience, Junction Point might have delivered a worthwhile, significantly improved sequel. Instead, Epic Mickey 2 is consistently held back by a less-than-stellar technical execution that is big on ideas, but short on delivery.
The Less Than Magic Kingdom
Epic Mickey 2 returns Disney’s most-loved mascot to Wasteland, a place where scrapped characters and creations continue to live on in their own sort of Disney-fied otherverse. The story picks up after the events of the previous game, with Mickey Mouse being called back to the Wasteland after an earthquake ravages Mean Street and Oswald is charmed by a newly returned Mad Doctor, who claims to have abandoned his villainous ways. It’s clear that something fishy is afoot, though exactly what is a mystery at the outset. It’s enough to get Mickey and Oswald to team up as they work to figure out what’s wrong.
Much of the open-ended platforming of the original Epic Mickey returns intact in The Power of Two, with the addition of Oswald as a constant companion and potential co-op character being the main enhancement. Mickey returns to Wasteland armed with the same paint/thinner abilities afforded to him by his Magic Brush and you’ll only take control of him in single-player games. Oswald wields his remote control, which is used to activate certain switches and re-program machines. He’ll also stun enemies with electric attacks in combat, and use his helicopter rotor-like spinning ears to glide across long gaps while Mickey clutches his feet.
The fundamentals remain largely the same outside of Oswald. The world of Wasteland is broken up into discrete environments, but each one is large, elaborate, and marked by its own identity. The broken, scattered bits of Mean Street still feel like a slightly twisted take on Disney’s own Main Street, with the small-town vibe coming to feel more and more “off” as you get to know the local residents. This sort of not-Disney personality shines through in every location, and it’s all enhanced significantly by The Power of Two‘s move from the previous game’s Wii exclusive to a multiplatform release for HD consoles (plus the Wii).
The writing in general earns high marks, shining especially bright in cutscenes that run the gamut from standard CG animation to hand-drawn 2D cartoons. There are even a handful of songs to enjoy in the early game, though the musical element is definitely downplayed more and more as The Power of Two progresses. Players also have a similar sort of control over the story’s outcome as they did in the last game thanks to the open-ended gameplay opportunities offered by Mickey’s paint/thinner abilities. Whether you’re fighting enemies or tackling environmental puzzles, there are typically multiple solutions to any given obstacle that generally boil down to using either paint or thinner to fill in or blot out different parts of the environment.
The original Epic Mickey showed similar promise and, unfortunately, The Power of Two falters in many of the same spots that its predecessor did. For starters, basic game concepts aren’t explained very well. You’ll be introduced to your basic controls in the opening moments, but more advanced concepts such as the open-ended opportunities offered by the paint/thinner divide are merely glossed over. You’ll be fine if you’ve played Epic Mickey, but newcomers are expected to simply feel things out. Similarly, while it’s great that Wasteland is once again packed with secrets to uncover, the game doesn’t do an effective job of communicating what you should be looking for. The in-game map is equipped with filters that help you figure out where you’re supposed to be going and what other things you could go looking for, but the sub-par tutorial skips over it entirely.
Then there’s Oswald. The rabbit plays second fiddle throughout The Power of Two, to the point that you’ll only ever control Mickey in single-player games. Co-op play gives the second player control over Oswald, but the puzzles tend to be pretty Mickey-focused and Oswald’s remote control ability lacks any sort of depth. While Mickey can edit large swaths of the environment in one way or another, Oswald is basically limited to serving as an on/off switch in select locations. Epic Mickey 2 also features local co-op play only, which means you’ll have to struggle with split-screen if you want a second player to join in.
Unfortunately, having that second player handy is helpful since the AI-controlled Oswald is so unreliable. You’re supposed to be able to call him over to Mickey with a single button-press, but things rarely go so smoothly in practice. You’ll frequently find yourself waiting for Oswald to catch up, and you’ll sometimes struggle once he arrives to get him to do whatever it is that needs doing. Contextual commands that require the use of the remote control work fairly well, but getting the rabbit into position for pressure plate puzzles and things like glide-required jumps can be a trying ordeal more often than not.
The great shame of these shortcomings is that there’s a compelling, smartly designed game that pays great service to deep-cut Disney fans. The problem is that it’s buried beneath an avalanche of design woes. It’s as if development was rushed. Hell, maybe it was, but the reason matters little in light of the result. As smart as the open-ended level design is — both for the 3D open worlds and for the 2D side-scrolling sequences that connect them — that appeal is frequently lost amidst a wash of frustrating design choices.
I’m not going to hold the Wii U-specific issues against the game too much since the Nintendo console was added late in The Power of Two‘s development, but there are problems with the Wii U version that any prospective player should be aware of. On the positive side of things, the Wii U release is as visually strong as any other HD version of the game. Wasteland looks gorgeous in HD, and that holds true just as much on Nintendo’s platform as it does on any other the others.
The technical performance, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. The frame rate in general is noticeably slower than you would expect from a 2012 console game. You’ll spot the performance slowdown even when you’re just panning the camera slowly around Mickey, especially in large, detailed environments, such as Mean Street. There’s a basic level of choppiness that you would typically expect to see in a PC game running at higher settings than its graphics card normally allows for. Slowdown is also an issue during the busiest moments, with the already-inconsistent performance dipping to unacceptable levels. There was even one entire cutscene that played out with no sound at all; I thought it was my TV until the scene ended and sound was restored. This is a port that is in desperate need of optimization; perhaps a patch could fix it, but one hasn’t been issued yet.
Then there’s the missed opportunity of the Wii U’s second screen interface. Players have quick, touch-based access to the in-game map and its filters on the GamePad. You can also quickly switch between any sketches you’ve unlocked — Epic Mickey‘s limited-use “magical” abilities — by tapping the desired icon. And that’s it. No GamePad-only play. You can’t even dump the splitscreen in co-op games over to the smaller screen. In fact, the best way to play Epic Mickey 2 on your Wii U is with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk, since the remote offers a finer degree of control over Mickey’s paint reticle than any analog stick could.
Steer clear of the Wii U version until an update is released to fix the technical woes. Slowdown and frame rate issues aside, it’s easily the best version when you come at it with a Wii Remote+Nunchuk. The PlayStation 3 version potentially offers the same as well with Move controls. Your goal should be to avoid any version of the game that only supports analog stick-based controls.
As a game, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is a marginally improved sequel that adds just as many headaches to the experience as it does enhancements. It isn’t a terrible game at all, but it’s a flawed one for sure, held back most of all by a general level of user-unfriendliness that is particularly troublesome for series newcomers. For any issues, lingering or otherwise, The Power of Two is still a difficult thing for any serious Disney fan to say no to. For whatever ails this game, it’s clear that Spector and his team have a deep love for the Mouse House.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Wii U via a review copy provided by the publisher)